Complex defence signalling pathways, controlled by different hormones, are known to be involved in the reaction of plants to a wide range of biotic and abiotic stress factors. Here, we studied the differential expression of genes involved in stress and defence responses in systemic tissue of rice infected with the root knot nematode (RKN) Meloidogyne graminicola and the migratory root rot nematode Hirschmanniella oryzae, two agronomically important rice pathogens with very different lifestyles. qRT-PCR revealed that all investigated systemic tissues had significantly lower expression of isochorismate synthase, a key enzyme for salicylic acid production involved in basal defence and systemic acquired resistance. The systemic defence response upon migratory nematode infection was remarkably similar to fungal rice blast infection. Almost all investigated defence-related genes were up-regulated in rice shoots 3 days after root rot nematode attack, including the phenylpropanoid pathway, ethylene pathway and PR genes, but many of which were suppressed at 7 dpi. Systemic shoot tissue of RKN-infected plants showed similar attenuation of expression of almost all studied genes already at 3 dpi, with clear attenuation of the ethylene pathway and methyl jasmonate biosynthesis. These results provide an interesting starting point for further studies to elucidate how nematodes are able to suppress systemic plant defence mechanisms and the effect in multitrophic interactions.